Hanging off the side of a valley in Turkey’s picturesque southwest is a spellbinding snow-white cascade of travertine terraces where mineral-rich thermal water flows down from 17 hot springs.
Pamukkale, which literally translates to ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish, owes its name to enchanting formations of white limestone and calcium deposits from the mineral water flowing over the rocks. The sediments have crystallised over millennia creating a captivating winter wonderland facade.
But despite its deceptively arctic appearance, Pamukkale is the perfect getaway on a spring or summer’s day when temperatures can reach up to 35°C on average.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Turkey’s Denizli Province every year to bathe in the hot waters of Pamukkale, drawn in not only by the spectacular natural landscape but also by the site’s rich history and cultural heritage.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site has been a thriving spa resort since ancient times. Surrounding the travertine pools are magnificent ruins of the ancient Greek-Roman spa city of Hierapolis, which dates back to 190BC.
A ticket for Pamukkale enables you to visit the site for the whole day. This includes entry to both the hot springs as well as the ruins of Hierapolis where you can explore various Roman antiquities and visit the Hierapolis Archaeology Museum, which sits on the site of the ancient Roman Bath.
In the shadow of the ancient ruins lies Cleopatra’s Pool, where the Egyptian queen herself once bathed. Surrounded by lush gardens, visitors can soak, snorkel and wade around an impressive assortment of ancient Roman columns submerged beneath the thermal waters of the antique pool. A number of these columns had fallen after an earthquake in the seventh century AD caused many of the ancient city’s structures to collapse.The hot waters of Pamukkale are believed to have ‘healing properties’. As legend would have it, once upon a time a young girl felt so lonely and unwanted by the village folk near Pamukkale where she lived, due to her ‘ugly’ appearance, that she decided to kill herself. She jumped off a cliff in Pamukkale, but instead of dying, she fell into one of the water pools. The miraculous healing powers of the water washed away her pain and sorrow and turned her into an attractive young woman. Mesmerised by her beauty, the lord of Denizli fell in love with her; they married and lived happily ever after.
Pamukkale’s calcium-rich water may not make you more attractive, as the legend goes, but it is renowned for curative qualities, particularly for eye and skin diseases and rheumatism among other conditions – with the wondrous travertine terraces providing the ultimate scenic backdrop for bathers.
If you go on a particularly sunny day, it is a good idea to arm yourself with a pair of sunglasses to protect against the glare of the sunlight reflecting off the white limestone.
Most visitors often visit Pamukkale on a day trip from Denizli and arrive by bus in the early afternoon. To avoid large crowds, especially during the high season, you can stay overnight in the village of Pamukkale itself and visit the site in the early morning before larger groups of tourists arrive. It is, however, as the sun sets and the temperature cools down that you would probably catch the most phenomenal views across the valley.
Whichever time of the day or the year you decide to go, a visit to Pamukkale is bound to be an unforgettable experience.